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Building a Career Network from Nothing

If you're a recent college graduate thinking about how to expand your career network beyond fellow alums, there are several things you can do. You can optimize your social accounts for search algorithms, connect strategically with people with similar interests, and attend networking events set up by locals. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Below you'll see more advice from experts we've spoken to in the last month.

1. Optimize your LinkedIn profile

Career expert Austin Belcak says everyone needs to improve their LinkedIn page, from top to bottom, especially those starting out. The main goal of doing this, he posts, is to show up in more search listings performed by recruiters either on the LinkedIn site itself or on Google.

"Recruiters are searching for keywords that match the position they're hiring for. For example, if they need a new project manager, they may search for: Project Manager, PMP, ACP, etc. When they hit "search," LinkedIn scans profiles for relevant data and serves up the people who have the search criteria in their profile. The more your profile matches the search criteria, the higher you'll show up," Belcak says.

Among the things he most recommends you improve on in your LinkedIn is the URL of the page, the profile headline, keyword use, the career summary, and your profile photo.

2> Engage and become part of the network conversation

North Carolina-based career expert Sarah Johnston also says your activities on LinkedIn are important. But her advice focuses on back-and-forth communications with other people there. She says the goal is to be active, replying to comments when you have something valuable to contribute, and to be early to ensure you get the most exposure on popular posts.

"High-value comments appear at the top of the post comment list and depending on the post can get a great deal of exposure," she says.

For people not used to commenting on posts by their own connections on LinkedIn, much less on those of strangers, Johnston says the more you do it, the more you will get better and gain confidence. Still, the quality and focus of the posts must be kept top of mind. Anything that shows your expertise in the detailed day-to-day aspect of your work or on larger industry trends will be rewarded with engagement and enduring connections. And of course, this approach can be replicated on other networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

3. Make a personal connection about things that have nothing to do with work

Executive resume writer and career strategist, Arno Markus, says connecting with people over the things they truly care about may be the most important part of networking. And that logically includes things which have nothing to do with work. He recommends you seek out people in clubs or organizations through online research and see if you can match up with them based on external interests like sports and hobbies.

"If you look at keywords, you can find people's passions. You can say 'Oh yeah, I saw that you love scuba diving. I'm a scuba diver. What else about it [do you like]?'"

Coming from a two- or four-year university where you have time to explore a lot of your interests, you should have no trouble thinking about things you like to do in groups and where you could meet with career-based older people who can later become mentors.

4. Match other people's tone

When it comes to direct, one-on-one networking in person or through Zoom, Markus says one of the best ways young people can build a career network is to learn how to master tone. That means ensuring you match the feel and personality of the other person. Not only does it show empathy for the thoughts of the other person but it creates a strong emotional impression.

"If you master tone [it sets up] everything else. So what I would do is, if they're kind of personable and talking, I become personable and talky. If they're more quiet and low key and professional, I become quiet, low-key professional," Markus says.

5. Reach out with intentionality

Career expert Alexine Garcia tells MPR one way to make sure strangers do not pay you any attention in a career networking situation is to not know what you want. The opposite tact is to work hard to learn what you want out of networking, your career and your life as much as possible. That way, when you reach out to those strangers, you will have a good sense of yourself and be able to communicate better, whether asking for a job or something else.

"I've had people come into my office saying they're connected to [me] on LinkedIn. Um, what? 'What can you tell me about her?' And he says, 'Oh, I just added her cause she added me.' You know, that's fruitless. But if he says, 'Oh, well, I worked with her on a project during our marketing class in college. That's intentionality."

6. Attend networking events with a learning mindset

Garcia says people should never go to a networking event with simply a job-getting attitude. A learning attitude, where you are open to learning more about other people, companies and yourself, is more likely to be productive for you long-term. That's because you are more open to experiences and it won't bring you down if you don't happen to meet that very special (imaginary) someone who will want to give you a job with a huge salary right out of college.

"At the end of the day, [that attitude] is going to be stale. It's going to be clingy. I wouldn't even recommend taking a resume to these things unless you are very sparing with it," Garcia says.

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